The Waitlist Sucks (part 1 of 3)

There’s just no easy way to say it. There’s no funny intro or creative analogy. And frankly, it sucks for everyone. To understand the student experience (which we’ll delve into next week), you first have to understand the college’s perspective.

The Admission Experience

The waitlist is a reminder that I’m not very smart. If I were better at my job, I could predict exactly how many students each year would accept our offer of admission (a term known as “yield,” which is the percentage of students who say YES to your offer and choose to enroll). In fact, if I were really good, we’d have 100% yield (the national average is 33.6%). In this perfect world, all of our new students would come to campus smiling, earn 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in 4 years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.

Georgia Tech’s freshman class size is 2,800. As a public school, our mission is to serve our state and expose all students to a world class education in a global context. Part of that education means enrolling students from states across our nation and countries around the world. Our ideal undergraduate population is approximately 60% from Georgia, 30% from other states, and 10% international students.

Due to finances, proximity, name recognition, rankings, girlfriends, and perceptions that people in the south do not wear shoes or have running water, our yield projections are based on demographics. In recent years, our yield from Georgia has been approximately 63%, 35% from abroad, and 24% from states around the country. We constantly analyze yield by state, gender, major, etc., but at the end of the day, although data, history, and trends are helpful, each student is different, each family is different, and each year is different.

Method Behind the Madness

Maybe I’m going into too much detail here, or belaboring a point you basically got after the first sentence: I’m not that smart. Essentially, the waitlist exists to accommodate for demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. If you have the right number of deposits from the West coast, you go to your waitlist for more East coast students. If you have enough Chemistry majors, you may be going the waitlist for Business students. Ultimately, the job of admission deans and directors is to make and shape the class, as defined by institutional priorities. Meeting target enrollment is critical to bottom line revenue, creating a desired ethos on campus, proliferating the school’s brand, and other factors.

If we come in with too few students, we lose revenue and are unable to fund initiatives and provide opportunities for the students who are here. If we overenroll the class, we run into issues with housing, inflated student-faculty ratios, quality of classroom discussion, space for labs, and long lines at Chick-Fil-A. I hate being blamed for all of these things, but walking into the student center just to get a coke and having someone tell me to stop enrolling so many students because the lines are long is just annoying.

Making the Phone Call

How waitlist offers are made vary by college but it’s not atypical for a school to offer four to six students a spot from the waitlist just to convert one after the May 1 national deposit deadline. It’s logical, as students have mentally committed elsewhere by that point. They’ve deposited, bought the t-shirt, attended an admitted student day, and met future classmates on the Facebook group.

I hate calling a student and hearing simultaneous excitement and pain. Pleased to have the option, but also realizing the option creates a quandary. Conversely, other students quickly dismiss the call quite brashly. “Nope. I’m going to X.” It’s the proverbial finger, and I get it. In fact, I remember Bucknell offering me a spot from their waitlist after I’d already committed elsewhere, and it kind of felt good to turn them down. On our side of it, it doesn’t matter who X is, we lost– And nobody enjoys losing, right?

In part 2 of this series, we delve into the student experience of the waitlist.

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Making the Most of Your Campus Visit: Part 2

Tech in spring

Today wraps up our 2-part series with guest blogger Elyse Lawson. Welcome back, Elyse!

There are hundreds of things that can be accomplished in 75 minutes but showcasing all a college campus has to offer isn’t one of them! As with most schools, you will see the recreation center and hear all about our extracurricular offerings, but it’s what lies OUTSIDE the tour that truly represents Georgia Tech and Atlanta. Here are our recommendations of spots to check out on your upcoming visit.

Academic Spaces

With over six colleges and 34 majors, ask your Tour Guide about the building that houses your potential major. Even if you’re not majoring in Business or Biomedical Engineering, be sure to check out these spots on campus:

Technology Square: This Georgia Tech- sponsored innovation district houses the Scheller College of Business, GT bookstore, startup incubators, innovation centers, lab and research space, as well as plenty of retail and office space. It serves as the urban “main street” of campus, connecting the Institute with the local community.

Tech Square

BioTechnology Quad: This unique research-based organizational structure allows students from all different majors to collaborate and work together. This 28,000 square foot structure houses science labs, chemical, computer, electrical and material science engineering labs, as well as classroom and collaborative work space.

Extracurricular spaces

Pi Mile: Looking for a unique way to experience campus and maybe squeeze in a quick run? Make sure to check out the Pi Mile. We have the best of both worlds with a college campus feel in the heart of the city and this trail allows you to really get a feel for our unique campus.

Plaque dedication for the running trail named for Tyler Brown, and alumnus and former student body president who was killed last September while serving in Iraq. -- Tyler Brown

Invention Studio: Are you interested in the maker movement, design and innovation projects? Do you want to be part of a community of dedicated inventors? If so, then make sure you stop by the Invention Studio! This distinctive student-run maker space is located on the 2nd floor of the MRDC building and provides students with access to cutting edge machinery (such as 3-D printers, waterjet and laser cutting machines, soldering tools and more!), workshops and experienced guidance.

Midtown Atlanta

Piedmont Park: Midtown Atlanta has so much to offer Georgia Tech students, but one of the greatest attributes that ATL boasts is Piedmont Park. Oftentimes referred to as “Atlanta’s Common Ground,” the 185 acres that make up Piedmont Park are where people from all over the city come together. Georgia Tech students not only enjoy the space for walking, biking and club sports, but they also enjoy the great festivals (such as the Dogwood Festival and Music Midtown) that bring great food, artwork and performers into the city.

The Atlanta Beltline: The Atlanta Beltline Project is one of the largest urban redevelopment projects currently underway in the United States, and it all started with at Georgia Tech! Ryan Gravel had a vision while working on his Master’s thesis to improve the city by re-using 22 miles of historic railroad corridor to bring together the city. This incredible transportation and development effort is changing the way the people of Atlanta access all that the city has to offer! If you have chance, you should stop by Ponce City Market and walk along the part of the Beltline.

Making the Most of Your Campus Visit: Part 1

This week Elyse Lawson, our Assistant Director in charge of campus visits, joins us as a guest blogger. Welcome, Elyse!

As May 1 approaches, students around the country will be deciding which college they will call their “home away from home.” One of the best ways to do that is by visiting campus and exploring the surrounding areas!

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we begin with a list of College Tour Do’s and Don’ts, to help you make the most of your visit at Georgia Tech!

To Make your Visit Enjoyable and Pain Free, DO:

  1. Register ahead of time: Our daily visits begin filling pretty quickly due to limited space capacity. To ensure that you have a spot, make sure you go online and register for your visit, as soon as possible.
  2. Allow for extra time to find parking and reach your destination: Make sure you do research and check out our parking and directions webpage. It will show you the different visitor parking options around campus.
  3. Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes: Our tour includes about 1.75 miles worth of walking so you will want to make sure you are comfortable during your tour. If you need any special accommodations please contact our office as soon as you register for your visit.
  4. Allow enough time to soak in everything campus has to offer: Our info session is about an hour long and the tour can take up to an hour and half. Please plan to be on campus for at least 2-1/2 hours when you come to visit.
  5. Ask Questions: Parents, try and encourage your students to think about questions beforehand. It is important to ask questions that will allow you to get a true sense of what the student experience will be like.
  6. Inform your Tour Guide if you have another campus tour or meeting scheduled that day: Our tour guides want to be as helpful as possible! If you have another meeting scheduled at the end of your tour or need to leave a bit early, let them know!

Avoid These Common Visit Mistakes, and DON’T:

  1. Talk on the phone or text: Answering phone calls or texting while on your tour is disruptive for the tour guide and other visitors, and it can also delay the progress of the tour. Don’t use your phone, so that the Tour Guide can keep the tour moving along smoothly.
  2. Lag behind or get in front of the tour: Try your best to keep up with your tour group. It can be challenging for our Tour Guides to keep large groups together, so please make sure you stay as close as possible throughout the tour.
  3. Monopolize the Tour Guide’s time with questions that are not applicable to the group: Tour Guides love to share their experiences with you, but also want to make sure the information they are conveying applies to the entire group. If you have specific situational questions, we ask that you please hold those until the end of the tour. Our Tour Guides usually stick around after tours and love to answer questions and have personal conversations with families!
  4. Engage in side conversations when the Tour Guide is talking: There is time between each stop on the tour that you will be able to speak with your tour guide or get to know other people on your tour. We highly encourage you to take advantage of this time, but please be mindful when the Tour Guide begins speaking about the next stop, so not to interrupt the experience of others.
  5. Solely rely on your tour to help you learn about the school: As you will see in the second part of this series, there is far more that campus has to offer than we have time to show you during a 1.5 hour tour. Take time to explore Atlanta and the rest of campus when you come to town! There are so many great things to see!

Join us next week for part 2 of this series, with inside tips on what to see at Tech, and Atlanta!

Keep it simple. But not too simple…

My wife loves REAL SIMPLE magazine. Their tagline is: Life Made Easier. I think of it as the “EASY Button” of magazines. You’ll commonly see headlines like, “How Lemons Can Simultaneously Clean Your Shower and Shape Your Abs,” or “6 Ways to Get More Sleep without Sleeping.” Typically, I will flip one open, read the first paragraph, skim the second, glance at the picture of some helpful graphic or perfectly trimmed flower in an artisan glass, before I start thinking of the irony that these come so frequently they’re cluttering what is clearly supposed to be a straight-lined house (see page 28).

Unfortunately, in the admission process, especially due to the generalized media coverage surrounding our field, there are many “REAL SIMPLE-fied” subjects. Here are a few tips to help you avoid the temptation to start showering with lemons:

  • Don’t let the “sticker price” keep you from applying to a particular school. As of 2011, all colleges and universities receiving federal funds must post an online net price calculator to provide prospective students and their families estimated net price information based on your individual circumstances. While I’ve literally NEVER heard a family say, “Wow. We are getting that much in aid! That seems too generous,” most families report that the net price calculator serves as a helpful catalyst to gauge likely cost and discuss the reality of attending a particular college. Also, check out online message boards, and talk to friends from your community about their experience at certain schools. Many schools will “discount” or reduce a percentage of attendance in order to meet enrollment goals. You’ll especially see this happen at private schools in the mid to upper tier. As long as your family discusses what the ultimate package/cost of attendance will need to be for it to be affordable, don’t let the broadly published total keep you from applying.
  • Don’t believe the rankings hype. If you have been admitted to two schools and there is a significant disparity (a number for you to define) in ultimate costs, do not choose the one ranked higher based solely on that factor. Look at the current NCAA Basketball rankings. Can you really make a compelling argument that the team ranked number six is significantly better than number twelve? Would you put money on them finishing higher in final polling or that they’ll advance further in the tournament? Let’s say you had to put down $500 to align with number six and only $100 to ride the tide with number twelve? Both schools will prepare you well, they’ll support you academically and socially, and they’ll be broadly known to give you every opportunity during and after your college experience. Just as much as you expect a holistic admission process as an applicant, your selection of a school should incorporate far more than a number on a page (particularly a hotly contested and arguably arbitrary one). NACAC provides a healthy lens to view rankings through here.
  • Think more broadly than quantifiable ROI (return on investment). Thankfully, since about 2009, our nation has been more conscious of discussing ROI. The right questions are being asked about the value of a college degree and the employability of a particular major based on supply and demand. However, the metrics used for determining value and ROI, while helpful, only look at dollars invested vs. dollars earned in starting or mid- career situations. Is this college a place where you will be challenged in what you know, what you believe, how you live now, and how you will live in the future? Are the connections you make—both among classmates, professors, and alumni—the kind of people that you want to surround yourself with and be associated with in both the long and short term?

I know it’s a lot easier to throw in five ingredients that simultaneously make a gourmet meal AND leave your hair well-conditioned for life, but adding nuance to some of these otherwise overly simplified aspects of the admission process means you are doing your job and allocating due weight to the importance of this decision.

The Money Blog

I think one of the toughest parts about the admission process, especially for talented students, is the pure number of college options you have. In the United States there are more than 2,400 four-year colleges, and more US students are going abroad to study than ever before. And in the middle of all of that, everybody is sending you glossy, shiny brochures of happy, smiling students underneath trees with professors blissfully learning in the sunshine. One day it’s the snow covered mountains of Vermont or Colorado, and the next day you’re picturing yourself strolling the beach after class in California or Miami. (Talk about FOMO!)

Adjusting to Choice

Having taught, employed, and regularly observed college freshmen over the years, I’ve found the variety of choices is one of the biggest adjustments to campus life. So I completely get it. High school was a constant cacophony of bells ringing, whistles blowing, horns honking. Start, stop. Begin, end. Go to school, practice or rehearse or work, study, sleep. Rinse and repeat. The big question is what are you doing with your discretionary 37 minutes each day?

Then you land on a college campus and are no longer required to run four miles a day for the cross country team. They have food courts and gluten-free options. And your class of 350 is now a campus of 18,000. “And wait, what?! I only have to be in class 15 hours each week plus a lab? Yeaassss!!!”

In addition to all that, at any time of day or night you can find someone interested in hitting a tennis ball, heading to the library, catching a show, or shooting potatoes off the roof with a homemade contraption (just spit-balling hypotheticals here).  Figuring out how and with whom to spend time is an understandable challenge. Ultimately, you learn to make choices based on hours in the day and week and what you want your experience to look like.

Student Loans & Debt

Unfortunately, when it comes to student loans and debt, we don’t take a similar approach. Instead, discussions of affordability are largely framed by a college’s Return on Investment (ROI) or a family’s perceived tolerance for a particular debt load.

At this time of year, families are usually looking at Net Price Calculators or specific financial aid letters and asking the question,“can we afford this?”

To answer that question you need to go beyond the bottom line number and consider how you are willing to live during and after college.

  • Will you co-op or intern during your time in school?
  • Are you willing to pick up a campus job or one in the surrounding community?
  • Is undergraduate research a paid position, and how much can you earn?
  • Are you willing to put yourself on a budget each week or month during college, and how much is reasonable?

Last week we established that the average debt for a college graduate is approximately $30,000 (the average salary for a new graduate is $45,000). We also heard some good tips from Jeff Selingo and Rich DeMillo on not graduating college with more student loans than your starting salary.

This week I wanted to provide you with a sample budget from a recent Georgia Tech graduate. 

 George P. Burdell

  • Student loans:
    • $40,000 (5% interest rate)
  • Salary:
    • $50,000, entry level, with full benefits (medical/dental)
  • Housing (in-town Atlanta):
    • 2-Bedroom 1-Bath Apartment (shared w roommate)
  • Lifestyle:
    • Eats at restaurants and grocery shops, but eats/orders out more often.
    • Enjoys travel, games, movies and social time with friends
    • Single, No pets
  • Car: Used 2013 Honda Accord:
    • 30,000 miles · Automatic · 29 MPG
    • Bought at $23,000
    • Down payment of $8,000 (earned via college internship and supplemented by graduation gift)
    • Interest Rate: 3%
    • Loan Period: 48 months
    • Payment: $333/month
  • Estimated Annual Costs:
    • Medical: $300
    • Car Maintenance: $500
    • Emergencies: $250
    • Car Tax: $100
    • Holiday Events/Gifts: $350
    • Total: $1500 ($125/month)

Monthly Budget

Monthly take home pay: $2,900

Category Budgeted Amount
Monthly Bills
Car Insurance $180
Car Payment $350
Cell Phone $75
Housing $700
Utilities $150
Loan Debt $675
Necessities  
Groceries $200
Gasoline/Fuel $100
Annual Costs Fund $125
Non-Essentials  
TV (Netflix, Prime) $20
Restaurants/Dining $125
Entertainment/Travel $100
Discretionary Spending $100
Total Expenses: $2900

 

Student Loan Debt vs. Car Debt

Using this budget (which you’ll notice assumes no raises or bonuses), George can pay off his student loans in six years. This is where I completely take issue with people who equate student loan debt to buying a car. Not only does that car require gas, insurance, and routine maintenance, but all the while it’s depreciating in value. Often it’s not long after six years that you end up with another car payment because the one you worked so hard to pay off is now needing to be replaced. In contrast, the investment in your college education continually appreciates due to network of classmates and other alumni. More on that next week.

In the meantime, pick this budget apart. Add debt to the beginning assumption… decrease the salary… increase the amount you might spend in groceries or transportation costs… or lengthen the amount of time to pay off in order to distribute expenditures differently. Each of those choices is a reflection on your values, your priorities and your life goals and vision. Even if you change every row of George’s budget, you’re a lot further along in determining what you will choose to pay for, and how you can and cannot live. “Can we afford it?” is a very personal question rooted in choice. Hopefully this will provide you some of the tools and prompts necessary to answer that for yourself. Happy budgeting!